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Creativity explorer Fredrik Haren has travelled to over 70 countries and has interviewed countless people about their creative process. He reveals how these people tap on their creative potential, and what you can learn from them.

Nothing gets Fredrik Haren more excited than delving into the minds of creatives.

The author of the bestselling The Idea Book and self-proclaimed “creativity explorer” has spent 20 years studying the most prolific visionary thinkers, from artists and sushi chefs, to watch makers and political leaders.

Haren presented these findings at the Extreme Creativity workshop titled “How to develop your purest ideas into a sellable product” held in March for the Greater community.

The Most Creative People Are Confident Yet Humble

Haren surveyed a number of countries on how they rate themselves in terms of creative confidence. He noted that countries that score themselves humbly on creative confidence are also some of the most innovative places in the world. 

Such countries include South Korea and Singapore, which are tech and startup hubs in their own right.

On the other hand, the United States, the world’s biggest economy and home to some of the biggest tech giants of our time, rated itself high in creative confidence. 

He found that there was no correlation between creative confidence and actual innovation. The United States, South Korea and Singapore are competent innovation-focused economies.

Haren suggests that a combination of creative confidence and the humility to learn, could be the key to unlocking creative greatness. The creator never stops learning, and they view creativity as a lifelong process.

“Because creative people never think they are right. They always think that there must be a better way of doing things, of improving the current situation,” he says.

New Ideas Are Actually Not That New

Many great inventions today are based on existing ideas – the iPhone is a combination of a phone and a computer and is now the most popular smartphone globally.

“But great ideas need to be an improvement of the status quo”, says Haren. “They cannot be novel for novelty’s sake”.

For example, Alcoholic Architecture, a bar that lets you inhale gin and tonics by converting it into a mist cloud, intrigued many people at first. In the end, it closed down as customers grew bored of the concept.

In Iceland, architects proposed turning functional electric pylons into artistic statues, complementing the country’s incredible landscape. 

Image Credit: Choi+Shine Architects

To Haren, it is creativity at work, which he defines as combining past knowledge (in this case, the marketing of Iceland’s untouched beauty as a tourist attraction) with input of new knowledge (statues as art) and turning it into something that hasn’t been seen before. 

The Power of the Subconscious (and Why Brainstorming Doesn’t Work for Everyone)

“Creativity flows when the person’s brain is engaged in light activity, when the subconscious is at work”, says Haren.

He has found that many of his interviewees are at their most creative when they are out in nature, in bed before they sleep, in the shower, while inebriated, or even on the toilet. 

Many of his interviewees have conceived their most creative projects in their dreams. One of his interviewees, a Hong Kong-based sculptor called Johnson Tsang, calls ideas from his dreams “divine ideas”.

During brainstorming sessions, the brain is forcing itself to come up with ideas on the spot, which is counterproductive to many people, says Haren.

Your Best Ideas Are The Strangest

Anyone who wants to be a pilot in the United States Air Force has to undergo the brick test, says Haren. The brick test involves coming up with 50 ways to use a brick. 

“They want to find out who are the ones who give predictable answers, because they are not suitable to be fighter pilots, because predictable soldiers are bad soldiers,” he explains.

Haren conducted the same test among attendees at the event, where they suggested common uses such as using it as a weapon, or as a doorstop. But after the first 10 ideas, the suggested ways to use a brick became unusual, and sometimes even funny.

Haren pointing out how predictable the first ten answers will always be.

Haren says the creative energy is released after the first 10 ideas. “Suddenly the brain is saying – you know what? Screw this. I don’t want to be saying the right things,” he notes.

“Creativity is not finding a single, correct answer. It is about multiple correct answers and then picking the best one,” he says.  “So instead of coming up with just 10 ideas, come up with 50 instead.” he continues.

Creative People Are Always Curious 

Haren concluded the event with an anecdote about his meeting with Frank Stephenson, the design director of Mclaren Automotive, a company known for its luxury sports cars. Stephenson was on vacation in the Caribbean when he saw a sailfish displayed on the wall of his resort accommodation. 

He found that the fish has little indentations in its skin that form air bubbles, which act as a buffer between the water and the moving fish. These indentations allowed the sailfish to glide in the water without resistance from the water.

Stephenson was thrilled at his findings. He incorporated the same features in the sailfish’s skin into the P1 hypercar. 

Image Credit: McLaren (BBC)

Haren says Stephenson’s relentless curiosity, to the point where he spent $20,000 on his corporate credit card to bring a sailfish home from a layover in Miami, led to Mclaren’s design philosophy.

“And the whole design language of McLaren is based on what makes things fast in nature. That’s a beautiful story.” he says.


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